Cleo Fraser, AAP
Underground coal miners feel let down by the system amid fears more workers could be diagnosed with the potentially deadly black lung disease in Queensland, a mining union says.
Five cases have been confirmed in the state, indicating pneumoconiosis had re-emerged for the first time in Australian coalmines in three decades.
Jason Hill, from the CFMEU’s mining division, is worried that cases may have gone unnoticed when medical checks were carried out and workers feel let down by the system.
‘We’ve got fears that there’s going to be a lot more,’ he said.
‘We’ve got a spreadsheet in the Mackay office of a lot of concerned people that have contacted our union.’
Up to 40 people are on the list including current, past and deceased workers, he said, adding that the best way to stop people from dying from black lung disease was early diagnosis.
Mines Minister Dr Anthony Lynham, outlining a plan to tackle the disease on Thursday, has requested data on other possible cases from Queensland Health which is cross-checking miners’ medical records.
‘There’s still research to be done on the medical and workplace records, but I suspect there are more cases to come,’ he said.
‘I am determined to get on top of this issue to protect workers now and into the future and to be open and transparent as we progress.
‘I want to ensure no case is missed.’
A major review of the Coal Mine Workers’ Health Scheme is also being carried out and the government is looking at possible changes to mine safety laws.
After three initial cases were reported last year, an audit carried out on the state’s 12 underground coal mines found one was exceeding coal dust levels.
Workers at that mine, which hasn’t been named, are now wearing respiratory gear as a precaution and operations are being monitored.
Mr Hill claimed the mine had been exceeding dust limit levels for a long time and said it was shocking and wrong.
Over the past year eight mines have been directed to either improve monitoring or bring dust levels back under control.
Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche said the industry was as shocked as anybody that black lung disease had re-emerged after so many years.
‘We had all assumed the system was working,’ he said.
‘That’s why it deserves a comprehensive response. We’ve got to nail this once and for all.’
Mr Roche emphasised that dust monitoring systems were transparent.
‘At a point in time (some mines had exceeded dust limit levels but) what is important is what is happening over a prolonged period,’ he said.
He said it was highly unlikely those working on coal trains or in open cut mines were at risk.
Mining companies have offered workers new chest X-rays and specialist check-ups.
Black lung disease is caused by breathing in coal dust over long periods of time.
See the union campaign at http://dusttodust.org.au